Greta Van Fleet firmly established itself in the hard rock and blues-rock scene in mid-2017, since then facing a unique and, in a way, also grandiose trajectory to find its own place in the current context of American hard rock. The band – practically made as a family by brothers Josh Kiszka, Jake Kiszka, Sam Kiszka, and the group’s childhood friend, Daniel Wagner – began their journey in 2013, recording tracks without pretension and for the simple pleasure of making music. A few years later, ‘Highway Tune’, one of the first songs recorded by the group, was released on iTunes, taking Greta to a completely different reality.
Widely criticized for the presence of a strong nostalgia in their compositions, Greta Van Fleet has been called a boy band of pretty boys who badly copy Led Zeppelin, caricatures, players of third-rate music, and other nicknames. Not even the Grammy for “Best Rock Album” in 2019 for their EP ‘From The Fires’ was enough to stop the huge wave of criticism and make the band gain a more respected image within the specialized media.
Now, in 2021, Greta releases their second studio album, ‘The Battle at Garden’s Gate’, entering a new atmosphere of epic journey and even greater proportions of timbres and refined chords, with long songs and twelve tracks that build a fantasy world that mixes an idea of youth and something epic. Without a shadow of a doubt, the band presents an album that already walks from a more own and concise style, with more inventive characteristics and made with a minor rescue of the great ancestors of hard rock. Greta Van Fleet still drinks in Led Zeppelin’s fountain and Robert Plant’s legacy, but now it already mixes the received influences with a unique nature that is still in the transformation process.
The head singles of TBAGG, ‘Heat Above’, ‘My Way, Soon’, and ‘Age of Machine’ are perhaps the most distinctive point of the album. They bring songs with very architected progressions, taking the audience on a literal journey to the gates of the garden created by the group in a trajectory that transits between a nostalgic joy – which reminds us immensely of old rock festivals – to a melancholy built with great embellishments, as an epic preparation for, literally, a battle at its final destination. The other nine tracks, however, get lost in the story development process without being able to establish a convincing narrative of their own. Within the album, they all complement each other, but on their own, many of the songs do not stand up.
‘Tears of Rain’ deserves to be highlighted for its subtle denunciation, with lyrics that address poverty and social inequality in an obvious way, yet not so obvious as to become cliché. In fact, the song came about after the group visited poor communities in Rio de Janeiro in 2019 during a tour in Brazil.
Another strong point in The Battle at Garden’s Gate is the use and abuse of dense layers, with the piano overlaying chords, louder vocals, and riffs a la the old fashioned way, as always done in the band’s previous works, but in a milder way, with a musical construction quite distanced from ‘Anthem Of The Peaceful Army’, for example. Here the sonic rescues still exist, but no longer sound so cartoonish. ‘Heat Above‘, especially, brings again a nostalgic guitar resource, with volatile progressions and chords, also much used by other bands and guitarists during the 70s.
Some songs stand up to Josh’s vocals: ‘Caravel’ and ‘My Way, Soon’ are perhaps the most outstanding on the topic. Others bet on ballads and even soft rock: ‘Broken Bells’, ‘Light My Love’ and ‘Stardust Chorus’.
Maybe the greatest point of The Battle at the Garden’s Gate is a little confusion. The elements used by the band are all masterfully consumed: instrumental, vocal, melody, progressions, and even compositions, which already appear more mature. More predominant instruments are also mixed and we see greater use of the guitar, piano, and drums. However, Greta still fails in trying to make everything too grandiose. Even though it dares with psychedelic features and a pure and extremely good instrumental, the album wastes tracks and becomes memorable with only a few. It doesn’t make a mark and, consequently, doesn’t hold you for so long – exactly because it tries to increase the dose on scores that were already complete.
In the rock universe, some songs are good precisely because they are made to be simple, unpretentious, sometimes they are just passages for other music. This new album wastes creations that start off with all the elements to be great, precisely because then they end up turning it into overdone, huge, epic melodies, creating the false atmosphere of a high that simply doesn’t fit well. Still, the band’s new album is undeniably a great evolution since ‘From the Fires’, which was content to be just a good EP in the instrumental aspect, but far from something new. ‘Heat Above’, ‘My Way, Soon’, ‘Caravel’ and ‘Light My Love’ prove that it is at the very least purist and negligent to reduce the band to a mere imitation of the old hard rock. They do know how to create new winds from old maps.
Even so, ‘The Battle at the Garden’s Gate’ is still not what Greta Van Fleet could become. In contrast, it proves to us why we should wait and see what will come next.
The article above was edited by Rafaela Bertolini.
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